Peppermint Cocoa Crushes is the cutest, sweetest middle grade romance I’ve read in a long while. The second in the Swirl Books series after Pumpkin Spice Secrets, Peppermint Cocoa Crushes is about Sasha, an ambitious and driven seventh grader, who learns about herself, her friends and family, and how a crush really feels, while preparing for a school variety show competition. Adult readers, and likely many middle grade readers as well, will know how the story will turn out long before Sasha does, but it’s so much fun seeing her figure things out. The family and friendship pieces are moving, and the romance is, as we say in the Philippines, super kilig.
The Holidaze Spectacular is an annual school variety show competition that raises money for a cause in the local community. This year, Sasha has convinced the organizing committee to use the proceeds to support a local seniors program she volunteers for. She and her best friends, twins Karly and Kevin, are also performing a dance routine for the show, and the stakes are incredibly high this year, with the director of a prestigious art high school judging the show and awarding a scholarship to the winner. But Karly is too busy with quiz bowl to attend practices, Kevin is hanging out too much with their toughest competition, and Sasha is becoming overwhelmed with all the organizing duties she volunteered for.
I love how realistic this scenario feels. I can completely understand Sasha’s mom, a divorced single mother who went back to school to get a better paying job, pressuring her daughter to attend a STEM high school in order to get into a college with a strong technology program and launch a stable, high paying career. I can equally understand Sasha’s desire to focus on the arts instead, and pursue her love for dance, no matter how impractical. Karly is probably the character most similar to who I was in seventh grade, and I can relate to the challenge of telling your friends that you’ve developed new interests and may no longer enjoy an activity you’ve shared since you were children.
The romance comes into the story when Karly also confesses to Sasha that she has a crush, and since Sasha can’t relate, she begins confiding in other girls who have crushes too. Wanting her friend back, Sasha decides it makes sense to get a crush herself, and that Kevin is the most logical choice. Ever a planner, Sasha uses internet research to come up with a list to determine whether or not he likes her back. Sure he doesn’t make her knees go wobbly like the internet says crushes do, but how plausible are wobbly knees anyway?
In the meantime, Sasha’s happy to have found a new friend in Pete, a new boy in her math class who works in his grandfather’s market and makes an incredible peppermint cocoa. Oddly, she often exhibits flu-like symptoms around him, but he’s fun to hang out with anyway and he’s always around when she needs him.
Again, all of this is absolutely relatable. I love that Sasha is such a geek she actually writes out a list to prove whether or not Kevin likes her back, and I love how, despite all her logic, she fails to see some really obvious signs about Kevin’s true feelings. I particularly love that Sasha and Pete get along right from the start, and the conflict is mostly in Sasha’s laser focus on only Kevin as a crush prospect rather than in any jerk-like attitude in Pete. While I sometimes enjoy the frenemies-to-lovers trope, it can get tiresome to see a guy act like a total jerk or a girl act like a total drama queen in the beginning only to know they get together in the end. I much prefer having both parties actually like each other from the start, even though thoughts of romance may not develop until later.
Drink Pairing: Chocoholic’s Delight
Nothing makes for a better treat than a cup of hot cocoa and a good book! Check out a fun drink recipe below, treat yourself to a cup with this book and indulge!
Thank you to Thomas Allen & Son for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you as well for the card design of my favourite drink recipe!